A New Freelancer
I started freelancing at the beginning of this year after almost two decades working for a long procession of different employers. I couldn’t be happier with my decision: above all the fact that I now have so much more freedom to work when I want and where I want – and above all to fit that work in around family life.
But there is one frustration that has been nagging away at me ever since I took the plunge. I’m increasingly aware that other people often regard what I do as less valuable – certainly less high status – than when I worked for other people and followed a more conventional career path. That perception was evident in my retired mother-in-law’s comment this Easter that I must watch the same quiz shows on daytime television as her. And it’s obviously in the minds of those who ask when I might go back to the sort of job I used to do.
It’s irritating that people think I work any less hard than I used to, simply because I no longer spend 12 hours a day sitting at a desk somewhere else. But I fear the perception that freelancers have chosen the easy life is remarkably common. Worse, I think this perception also feeds the myth that freelancers are always trying to pull a fast one.
You can see this attitude at work in the media, which is ironic given the large number of journalists who operate this way. In stories such as the coverage of the BBC’s relationship with staff, the term freelance is invariably used as shorthand for “tax-dodging”, however unfair that might be.
You can see it too when the great brains of HM Revenue & Customs put on their thinking caps. You wouldn’t think the Government’s hopes of economic recovery were pinned on small businesses from the evidence of tax legislation, which is littered with attempts to crack down on the latest perceived threat of tax avoidance from greedy freelancers.
It’s a fascinating contradiction. As a society, we supposedly value entrepreneurial spirit and applaud those well-motivated souls who take the risk of setting up on their own. Yet freelancers are often treated with suspicion or even thinly-veiled hostility – and repeatedly asked when they might go back to doing a “normal”job.
As for me, I’ve no plans for a u-turn. And I look forward to challenging those mis-informed perceptions – both personally and professionally.
David Prosser will shortly become the new editor of Freelancing Matters magazine